Jacob Crabb was born in Leadgate on 20 September 1895, one of six children of Jacob Pester and Elizabeth Crabb. His father was a police constable and it was probably due to his work that the family moved around County Durham for several years before settling in Cornsay Colliery in the late 1890s. Cornsay Colliery is a small village west of Durham City which relied originally upon the local colliery for employment. The village had a Colliery Board School for younger pupils which Jacob attended before his admission to Durham Johnston School in 1908. In August 1912 Jacob is listed as a teacher at Cornsay School, and he continued there until he finished his apprenticeship in July 1913.
He attended Bede College 1914-1915 and for several months enjoyed the usual student activities such as rugby and association football, passing his 1st year examinations and making numerous friendships. However, his second year was interrupted by military service. The 1916 Annual Report for Bede College reported “the departure of nearly half the students to join the Colours in December, 1915”. Jacob Crabb and three of his friends enlisted together on 8 December at Helmsley into the 21st Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps (K.R.R.C.). Another Bede friend, Jack Spraggon, joined them a few days later. Jacob had known Jack Spraggon throughout his school days as well as at Bede College, indeed they probably travelled together on the local Deerness Valley train from their homes to the Durham Johnston School. Crabb was promoted to acting lance corporal in January 1916, then acting corporal in March 1916; his rank was confirmed on 1 July 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme.
The tie to Bede College remained strong, and Crabb sent a contribution to the College’s Prisoner of War Charity on behalf of the Bede men serving in the K.R.R.C. in September 1916. One of the group of students who had enlisted together in Helmsley, James Procter, served as a signaller with 21st Battalion, K.R.R.C.; he wrote several articles for The Bede magazine describing in particular the advance towards Flers on 25 September 1916 in which the 21st Battalion was heavily engaged. He explains that ‘Jake’ Crabb was that day in charge of a group of bombers (grenade-throwers). Two of the Helmsley four were killed on that day, but both Proctor and Crabb survived. Only 252 out of the 1,100 members of the battalion answered the roll call at the end of the action. Proctor wrote of this attack later, “I never saw [Crabb] once during this attack, but conversed with him when we finally reached Fricourt. We were both unshaven, unwashed and fearfully dirty. All we could say was ‘Give me Bede College again’” (The Bede, August 1918, vol. 14 no.3, p.18) .
The battalion was still in trenches at Flers when Crabb was killed only a few days later. Reports in The Bede magazine state he was killed on 5 October, but the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records an official date of 10 October. The battalion war diary provides no clarifying detail. It was reported in The Bede thatCrabb was killed while on a duty for which he had volunteered. His service up to that point had been such that he had been selected for a Commission and would have left his battalion in a few days to join a Cadet Company.
Jacob Crabb is buried at Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval. His sacrifice is commemorated at Durham Johnston School, on war memorials at Cornsay Colliery United Methodist Church, the church of St John the Baptist, Quebec, (both now relocated to the church of St Michael and All Angels in Esh), and at Durham County Hall, and on the Bede College 1914-1918 cross, plaque, and Roll of Honour.